New family heirloom: illiteracy

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  • Published 6.11.07

Hyderabad, Nov. 6: Children of uneducated parents are more likely to remain illiterate and become a part of India’s child labour force if their parents had to work as children, new research by the country’s social scientists has shown.

The research provides the strongest evidence yet to back a long-held theory that illiteracy can be transferred from generation to generation in a manner that sociologists term “social genetics”. It has also identified child labour as a possible trigger for this “gene”.

Of the group studied, 87 per cent parents who worked as children had pushed their kids into work, according to the study, presented at a conference organised by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights.

“A potent cocktail of social factors is behind this inter-generational transfer of illiteracy through child labour. Of course, children of uneducated parents are more vulnerable in terms of the education they receive. But if the parents worked as child labourers, the problem seems to increase further,” professor Ashok Khandelwal, one of the authors of the study, told The Telegraph.

Most child labourers grow up to remain “menial” workers, Khandelwal said. This, he added, translate into uncertain living conditions when they become parents.

“Earlier research had shown that such people continue to suffer from the lack of stable home conditions — a prerequisite for children to go to school,” he said.

The researchers, from the Jaipur-based Institute of Development Studies and the Dakshin Rajasthan Mazdoor Union (DKMU), followed migrant labourers who move seasonally from their homes in southern Rajasthan to north Gujarat.

Four of India’s poorest districts — Udaipur, Dungarpur, Banswara and Sirohi — were earmarked for the study.

The population in these districts is mainly made up of the Bheel tribe, Khandelwal, who teaches at BKMU, said.

“Most migrate to north Gujarat to work in Bt cotton fields,” he explained.

Fifty families were identified randomly. The researchers asked parents and their children independently about their levels of education. The responses were cross-checked with local schools.

The researchers found that illiteracy was being transferred from one generation to another, both at the level of the community and a particular family.

Nearly 40 per cent of the group quizzed had never been to school. Among the children — less than 14 years old — around 37 per cent were illiterate.

While 43.2 per cent of the adults had started primary school, the figure was a little over 40 per cent for the children. Only 17.2 per cent of the children completed primary school, while the figure was 22.2 per cent for the adults.

“The data clearly show that children of parents who worked as child labourers are likely to also stay out of school. They automatically then join the labour force while still children,” Khandelwal said.